At a town hall meeting Monday, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and City Councilman Franklin Thompson tag-teamed a question about a project left over from former Mayor Jim Suttle's administration.
It was a chance to remind people in west Omaha that there's a new mayor in town.
Two people asked about a planned bike/pedestrian bridge over the Big Papio Creek near TD Ameritrade Park's Old Mill headquarters.
Thompson said only two people really wanted that bridge: “the former planning director and the former mayor.”
Quipped the current mayor: “And they're not here anymore.”
Stothert told the questioners and about 60 other people at the meeting at Swanson Public Library that she's “re-evaluating the bridge.”
She joked that it could be “another bridge to nowhere.”
Just because the bridge was placed in the city's capital improvement plan doesn't mean it must be built, Stothert said.
The plan lists the cost at about $3 million. But money hasn't been budgeted for it, Stothert said, so not building the bridge wouldn't free up $3 million for something else.
The meeting was the first of seven town hall gatherings — one in each City Council district — that the mayor has planned for October and November.
Stothert and city department leaders fielded questions about housing code enforcement, double dipping and police-community relations, among other things.
A woman said the current housing code system allows houses to deteriorate and degrade neighborhoods. Two such houses in her neighborhood probably should be bulldozed, she said.
City Planning Director James Thele said a new code enforcement data system should be clearer and more efficient.
Answering a question about the city rehiring retired city employees who receive pensions, Stothert said the practice was meant to save money but “should be rare.” She said former City Planning Director Steve Jensen, with whom she proposes to contract as a consultant, “is worth it.”
Police Chief Todd Schmaderer told a questioner concerned about police-community relations that she could attend monthly precinct advisory council meetings.
A third major police operation to counteract gang activity is coming by November, he said.
It was mostly a feel-good meeting for the mayor. People started most questions with congratulations. Stothert stayed to answer questions for an hour after the meeting's official end.
Connie Pera liked the answer to her Lamp Park bridge query.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” she said. “I'm cautiously optimistic.”
Earlier Monday, Stothert spoke to about 60 people at a lunchtime gathering in north Omaha.
It was the mayor's second appearance at a monthly forum held at Chef Mike's Cafe at 24th and Lake Streets.
After a brief speech on the high points of her first months in office, Stothert took questions from audience members, who asked what she would do to improve mental health care, improve crumbling north Omaha streets and make City Hall more diverse.
Some thanked the mayor for reaching out to north Omaha, noting her attendance at parades, community meetings and celebrations.
Stothert told the crowd she was working to make better connections among police, community groups and educators.
The city is addressing a backlog of street repair work, she said, adding that some state money was spent on main arteries, such as Dodge Street, rather than neighborhood streets.
Stothert urged a “community effort” to address problems with gangs, violence and crime.
“If you expect our law enforcement to work with you to solve these issues, we need to have a good collaboration with each other,” she said. “We need people who are willing to come out and talk and work with our officers.”
Stothert said she hopes to win over those who doubt her ability to address some of the challenges facing north Omaha.
She said her goal is that at the end of four years, people acknowledge voters made the right choice.